7 Unbelievably Useful Time Management Tips

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Entrepreneurship

Why now? Why does your boss always need things at the last minute? Don’t they know that you have better things to do first thing in the morning than hunt down that piece of paper? Your to-do list is a mile long and you never have enough time to work on it as it is. And now, you need to waste precious minutes searching for this thing that your boss probably doesn’t really need anyway. 

To make matters worse, once you do find it and bring it to your boss, you just know that they are going to ask a hundred questions about what you managed to accomplish the day before and why you didn’t get more done. Meanwhile, it is going to take every ounce of self-control that you can muster to not yell “BECAUSE YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME ON NONSENSE!!!”

With a flurry of activity, you bustle into your office and try to figure out where to begin your search. Should you start with the piles on your desk or the stacks next to your chair? What about the papers strewn all over the floor? Or is what your boss needs not a physical copy at all but somewhere hiding in your Drive?

Oh no!! With the utmost dread, you look at your filing cabinet. You look at the drawers that are only half closed. You look at the papers peeking out through the top. And, as you look, you shudder because you know what horrors lie within the drawers themselves.

Cautiously, you move to your desk and begin to search through the piles (carefully avoiding the old coffee cups and candy wrappers that seem to have decided your work surface is their new home). Twenty minutes later you have determined that what your boss needs is not on your desk and you are left with the same dilemma: Where do I look next?

Slowly, you make your way through your office until you finally find what you are looking for and go to find your boss. But, as you triumphantly hand it over, you receive a strange look. Confused, you don’t say anything until your boss asks: “What is this?”

What is this? What is this? What do they think this is? It is obviously the thing that they sent you on a wild goose chase for. And clearly, they don’t need it! The absolute nerve!

With all the politeness you can muster, you smile and inform your boss: “It is the document that you requested.”

As your explanation sinks in, you can see the understanding begin to appear on your boss’s face. “Oh, you mean the document I requested this morning? Why did it take you so long to get it to me? The workday is almost over, so I don’t need it now.”

The workday is almost over? What? But you just got here? 

With a sudden feeling of dread, you look over at the clock and see that it is 4:45. But, how? You have nothing accomplished! An entire day spent simply searching for a piece of paper!!!

“So, what were you doing that kept you so busy? Did you make a lot of progress on that report?”

With all the dignity of a school child who knows they will be scolded, you sheepishly inform your boss that you didn’t make any progress on the report. Instead, your day was spent attempting to locate the document currently in her hand.

Then, you wait. You wait for the lecture you know is coming. You wait to hear, yet again, about how terrible your time management skills are. And, you wait to hear that if you don’t get your act together, you will be out of a job. 

But, to your surprise and horror, you hear something different.

“By the end of business tomorrow, you are to submit a workable plan for how you are going to improve your time management skills and become more productive. At the end of each day, we will review your efforts to follow the plan. You can keep your job by showing me that you are making steady progress in this area.”

Unsure of whether or not to be relieved, you make your way back to your office. Looks like, yet again, you are going to be working late. After you boot up your computer, you set to work on your new task by typing the most obvious starting point into Google:

What is Time Management?

After some browsing, you come across a time management definition you can work with. “Time management is the practice of managing your work in order to ensure you’re spending your time as intentionally as possible.” [1]

By spending your time this way, you are able to organize/ prioritize tasks, so you reduce stress, improve productivity, and break bad habits.

Okay, but how do you do this? 

As you delve through the interwebs, you compile the following list of time management tips.

Time Management Tip 1: Get Organized

*Ugh* Why is this the first one? What does organization have to do with time management?

It turns out it has a lot to do with effective time management.

According to a study done by National Geographic, “psychologists and neuroscientists link the effects of clutter on cognition, mental health, and behavior.” [1] In other words, the piles of paper and trash everywhere increase your stress and anxiety levels. Not to mention, they make it impossible to find what you are looking for in a timely fashion (the time that you spend looking for something is time that could have been spent crossing things off of your to-do list). 

The good news is that you can learn how to become organized by starting with the basics:

  1. Keep your desk surface clean and clear of clutter
  2. Create and maintain a filing system for physical copies of documents
  3. Organize your drive
  4. Use your calendar to help you break up longer projects, and use the color-coding feature to easily differentiate between tasks. 

Getting and keeping yourself organized may seem like a monumental goal at first. But, once you put in the initial effort, all you need are five minutes throughout the day to tidy up your space and file away important documents. [1]

Time Management Tip 2: Plan Ahead

Now that you have an organized space, it is time to plan ahead. The key to effective time management is to have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish each day. 

Before leaving at the end of the day, spend 15 minutes tidying up your office and create a bullet list of the 3 – 4 tasks that must be completed the following day. [2] By completing this simple step, you eliminate the morning confusion of “Where do I start?” Now, you are free to hit the ground running at the start of each work day.

Time Management Tip 3: Prioritize Wisely 

As you are creating your to-do list, you want to make sure your goals align with the SMART method. Essentially, you want to make sure that the goals you create are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. [3] This ensures that the goals you are developing are realistic and you won’t become overwhelmed or discouraged because you tried to reach the moon in one day.

Once you have created your goals, you now need to prioritize them. This allows you to be sure that you are completing the most important/urgent tasks first. A tool that you can use to accomplish this is called the Eisenhower Matrix. 

The purpose of the Eisenhower Matrix is to prevent you from being overwhelmed by a lengthy to-do list. This is done by separating your tasks into four quadrants:

  1. Important and urgent: These are the tasks that you are going to want to accomplish first.
  2. Important but not urgent: These are the tasks that need to get done but you are free to decide when you are going to do them.
  3. Urgent but not important: These tasks need to get done but not by you. Delegate these tasks to others whenever possible.
  4. Not urgent and not important: These tasks can either be set aside to do later or tossed. [3]

But, why does prioritization matter? Or, more importantly, how does it help? 

According to the Anatomy of Work Index, 29% of knowledge workers said that a contributing factor to their feelings of burnout was a lack of clarity on tasks and roles. By effectively prioritizing tasks, you stay ahead of the game and help to prevent the burnout that comes from not knowing which tasks need to be done first. [1]

Time Management Tip 4: Set a Time Limit to Each Task

Now that you have determined which tasks are important/urgent, you need to set a time limit to complete each task. This will help prevent you from getting distracted and/or procrastinating. 

According to Parkinson’s law, “Work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it.” [4] Basically, if you give yourself three days to write one paragraph, it will take you all three days to complete that paragraph. Meanwhile, if you give yourself twenty minutes to write that same paragraph it will only take twenty minutes to do so.

Two strategies to help you set time limits are

  1. Time-boxing
  2. Time-blocking.

Time boxing allows you to break down larger tasks and complete the smaller chunks within a set time frame. However, you do not want to work on a single task for more than three hours. This strategy is helpful if you are not sure how long something will take but you still want to be intentional about how you approach your work day. By creating dedicated periods for you to work on tasks, you have the ability to make steady progress towards their completion over time.

Time-blocking differs from time-boxing in the way the time periods are used. In time-boxing, each box is assigned a specific task that needs to be worked on. In time-blocking, the periods are used to complete related work. This is accomplished by grouping similar tasks together and completing them during a designated block. For example, one block could be dedicated to answering emails and another could be used for finishing that report.

Time Management Tip 5: Batch Similar Tasks Together

Whether you choose to use time-batching or time-blocking, it is always helpful to group and complete related tasks together because different tasks require different types of thinking. This means that every time you jump from one task to another, your brain needs to readjust and find the information that you need to complete the new task. However, when you batch your tasks together, you reduce the amount of time your brain spends readjusting, improve your productivity, and preserve your mental energy reserves. [1]

Time Management Tip 6: Change Your Schedule

Alright, you have learned about the importance of keeping your work-space organized, planning ahead, and prioritizing tasks. Now it is time to figure out how to combine all of this information and execute an efficient work day.

An important component to success is creating and sticking with a daily schedule. Within this schedule, you want to integrate separate time blocks for your different tasks. However, it is important to be aware of “planning fallacy,” which is the term used to describe the tendency people have to be overly optimistic about how much they can get done in a day. One way to combat this is to incorporate time buffers into your schedule. This way, if one of your tasks goes over the time limit, it doesn’t create a devastating domino effect on the rest of your schedule. [4]

When organizing your time-blocks, you are going to need to figure out the best order to complete tasks. There are different strategies available but, ultimately, it is up to you to figure out what works the best in your situation.

Two time management strategies available are:

  1. The “Eat the Frog” Method
  2. The Pareto Principle

The “Eat the Frog” method encourages you to take on your most important tasks first thing.  Once these are done, you can move onto the less important/ urgent tasks for the day. This way you can be sure that you are getting to your most important tasks every day. [1]

The complete opposite of this method is The Pareto Principle. This principle is often called “The 80/20 Rule” and is founded on the idea that you spend 20% of your time on 80% of your work. When using this principle, you start your day with the smaller/ quicker tasks that will take up 20% of your time. Then, once these are completed, you are left with 80% of the day to finish the remaining 20% of your work. [1]

When creating your schedule, it may be helpful to incorporate the Pomodoro technique. This technique encourages you to take breaks throughout the day which helps you to maintain focus while working. To use this technique, you need your prioritized to do list and a timer. Set your timer for 25 minutes and work on your to-do list. Then, take a five minute break when time is up. Try to do something physical (i.e. get up and stretch or get a snack). Repeat this process four times. After the fourth time, take a longer 20-30 minute break. [1]

Time Management Tip 7: Avoid the Urge to Multitask

One of the biggest time management traps that individuals tend to fall into is the belief that they can multitask. Although you may be tempted to try to multitask, you need to realize that you are actually losing time and lowering your productivity levels when you are constantly switching between tasks. [5] Remember that discussion we had previously about the brain constantly needing to readjust when we jump from one thing to the next? “Although task switching might cost only a few seconds per switch, it adds up if you multitask frequently. Your risk for error also soars.” [4]

Although it is a difficult habit to break, stop trying to multitask. Put your phone on silent, turn off all notifications, communicate your available/unavailable times with colleagues, and put a do not disturb sign on your office door if that is what it takes. Focus on one task at a time and allow yourself to enjoy increased levels of productivity as you are better able to enter a state of flow (aka “get in the zone.”)

******************************************************************************

With a sigh, you turn off your computer and look at your notes. Part one of your mission is now complete. You have discovered that you need to get organized and prioritize your work so that you can approach each day with intentionality and utilize effective time management skills.

Slowly, a small smile spreads across your face as you realize the hard part is done. Only a few more minutes are needed to put your new-found knowledge into a workable plan for your boss. Then, when you begin to put that plan into action tomorrow, you will be unstoppable.

Sources:

[1] https://asana.com/resources/time-management-tips

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2018/05/01/manipulate-time-with-these-powerful-20-time-management-tips/?sh=48dd17d057ab

[3] https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/management/time-management-list-tips/

[4] https://slack.com/blog/collaboration/mastering-time-management-at-work
[5] https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/time-management-at-work

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